The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), or Conference of the Parties (COP28) took place from 30 November until 12 December in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This conference was attended by 60000 people and climate financing lobbyists tried hard to reach some measure of commitment to financing aimed at mitigating the current and looming challenges facing climate-vulnerable countries.

Sub-Saharan African countries rely on agriculture, which contributes up to 60% of some countries’ gross domestic product. Climatic change has an increasing impact on agriculture and therefore also the lives and well-being of millions of people on the continent.

Agriculture relies heavily on climatic factors and is therefore highly vulnerable to changes in rainfall, temperature, and extreme weather events. These factors have already been responsible for at least a thousand deaths and millions of people being seriously injured, homeless and hungry.

The slow rate of technological advancement, such as the lack of communication, little or no awareness of the occurrence and impact of climate change, unstable government policies and political instability are also hindering aid programmes. Add to this international funding that is slow to reach those most severely affected.

The face of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa

Global temperatures are increasingly rising at an unprecedented rate, and these are expected to accelerate despite the possible restraint of greenhouse gas emissions. An increasingly warm climate is expected to lead to more frequent droughts and desertification, while higher vapour pressure leads to hurricanes and tropical cyclones that cause devastating floods.

Climate change has led to increased temperatures in eastern, southern, and western African countries. Declining rainfall impacts western and southern Africa most, and in Madagascar, South Africa, Malawi, and Zimbabwe some provinces are rapidly drying out. The increasing number of droughts leads to the decline of surface water which is critical for farming, fishing, and hydroelectricity, especially in central Africa.

Prolonged heat and lack of rain cause droughts, which are taking the largest toll on lives and livelihoods, threatening to undo progress during the past three decades to reduce infant mortality and malnutrition and expanding life expectancy. Countries that are the worst affected include the Sahel and southeastern Africa, especially in Niger and further south in Eswatini and Lesotho.

On the other hand, some countries face a huge increase in rainfall, which equally impacts agricultural production. Floods and storms are the most common natural disasters in Sub-Saharan Africa, where they destroy or seriously damage infrastructure, especially in countries like the Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, and Mozambique that bear the brunt of tropical cyclones from the Indian Ocean. Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone are prone to storms from the Atlantic Ocean, while large coastal cities, including Abidjan, Accra, Dakar, Dares Salaam and Lagos are vulnerable to floods from rising sea levels.

Floods can also spread diseases by creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which carry different deadly diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

Floods also contaminate drinking water, especially in countries with poor water supply and nearly non-existent sanitation.

Climatic change has an increasing impact on agriculture and therefore the lives and well-being of millions of people on the African continent

Adaptation and mitigation

Efforts to adapt to and/or mitigate climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa include sustainable agricultural practices, reforestation, investment in renewable energy sources, improved water management, and the development of early warning systems for extreme weather events.

Yet, research has found that farmers are not using effective adaptation strategies. These strategies include planting drought-tolerant crops as well as cover crops to prevent soil from being exposed to the sun and to retain moisture in the soil.

Mitigation programmes, including water management, soil preservation, afforestation and reforestation, carbon pricing and recycling, are also designed to maximise water use and to preserve the soil.

Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees where there has been no recent tree cover. Trees fight climate concerns by improving the soil quality and organic carbon levels and preventing desertification. Reforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests or woodlands that had been depleted by clearcutting for fields or harvesting of firewood.

Carbon pricing (or CO2 pricing) is another way to address climate change. The cost is applied to greenhouse gas emissions to encourage polluters to reduce the burning of coal, oil and gas, which are regarded as the main drivers of climate change. A carbon price usually takes the form of a carbontaxor a Cap and Trade system usually via an emissions trading scheme (ETS), a requirement to purchase allowances to emit.

Adaptation is too slow, while mitigation measures have not yet been embraced by farmers in Africa.

The increasing number of droughts leads to the decline of surface water which is critical for farming, fishing, and hydroelectricity, especially in central Africa

Consequences of climate change on agriculture and communities

Climate change already has had and is projected to continue having significant impacts on agricultural activities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of these effects include:

Increased temperatures: Rising temperatures contribute to heatwaves, exacerbating health issues and affecting agriculture, especially in already arid regions. This can lead to reduced crop yields, affecting food security. Funding could help improve rural infrastructure that can promote economic growth, reduce poverty, and make rural communities more resilient.

Droughts and desertification: Irregular rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts have become more frequent, leading to water scarcity and desertification. This impacts agriculture, water availability, and livelihoods, causing food and economic crises.

Floods and heavy rains: Some areas experience increased rainfall and flooding. These events can destroy infrastructure, homes, and crops, leading to displacement, economic losses, and increased disease risks.

Rising sea levels: Coastal regions in Sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, which threaten homes, infrastructure, and vital ecosystems. This can lead to displacement and loss of livelihoods, especially for communities dependent on coastal resources.

Impact on biodiversity: Climate change threatens the unique biodiversity of Sub-Saharan Africa. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can disrupt ecosystems, leading to shifts in habitats, loss of species, and reduced availability of resources for both wildlife and humans.

Health risks: Climate change contributes to the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever as changing temperatures create more favourable conditions for disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes. Additionally, extreme weather events can result in injuries, mental health issues, and the spread of waterborne diseases.

Economic challenges: Agriculture is a significant sector in many Sub-Saharan African countries. Climate change impacts crop yields, leading to decreased agricultural productivity and income for farmers. This can exacerbate poverty and food insecurity.

Conflict and migration: Competition over dwindling resources like water and arable land, compounded by environmental stressors, can contribute to social tensions, conflicts, and migration within and across borders.

Developing countries in Africa pay the price of climate change that is not caused by them, but by industrialised nations that pollute air, water, and soil.

Adequate measures

International cooperation and financial support are crucial in helping these regions adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Governments, international organisations, local communities, and other stakeholders need to develop strategies to help vulnerable farmers to adapt to prevent immense agricultural losses and ultimately food insecurity, which at present already impacts many people worldwide. Several programmes that are already in place are successful only to some extent.

The review of studies showed that Sub-Saharan Africa could develop economically if rural farmers took more effective measures against climate change to improve farm productivity. In many instances, farmers need guidance and financial aid to assist with putting these measures in place.

Governments and other stakeholders must strengthen institutions for policy development and implementation. Coordinating climate change adaptation efforts and sustainable agricultural practices can improve farm productivity, thereby increasing food security and better health.

Improving rural infrastructure could promote economic growth, reduce poverty, and make rural communities more resilient.

Initiating public welfare programmes would improve access to finance, markets, education, and climate information, thereby enhancing social protection.

Establishing more plantations and maintaining existing ones would help absorb the impact of climate change on agriculture and promote economic development. Afforestation and reforestation can also help absorb carbon and conserve biodiversity.


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